On 26th March this year, when an Ebola alert was issued by Ghana’s parliament, I wondered if the alert will reach the forested areas of Ghana from the capital city. A friend who works with the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and is based in Ghana’s capital couldn’t confirm whether or not the alert had reached all corners of the country especially the forested areas. Yesterday, I got an answer to my question from another friend’s post on Facebook. This friend’s mother is a health personnel who works in one of the rural districts and forested area of Ghana and is yet unaware of the Ebola alert, symptoms of the diseases and the precautionary measures to take.
As expected, she was upset about the inefficiency of the health information system. She felt the ministry of health (MOH) was doing little to disseminate health information especially when health personnel had little or no information on the Ebola virus. But can one blame the HIS of Ghana considering its challenges and the fact that little is being done to rectify its challenges (See Analysis of the state of the nation address below)? The challenges of the HIS may not be the only reason for the weak dissemination of the of Ebola health alert to the public and especially the health workforce. I believe one reason is our approach to communicate health information, like this Ebola alert to Ghana’s entire population.
Too often we are tempted to sew a one size dress and try to fit it to customers of varying sizes probably to save time and cut cost etc.. In the end, we fail to realize these benefits because not everyone could wear this one size dress. In the case of the Ebola alert, it looks like the MOH may have used social media to disseminate this alert when close to 80% of Ghana’s 25 million population is not active on the internet and social media.It may also have used the electronic and print media to disseminate this alert when these weren’t the preferred medium of communication among its target audience. Also MOH may not be making use of mobile phone penetration (about 26 million mobile phone users) in the country to send out an SMS alert to Ghana’s population. In the end this health alert was not well communicated. There is therefore the need to use the right medium for the right audience as;
1. it ensures that a message is received and used by the target audience
2. money is saved as one does not spend on the wrong media
3. it prevents delays and saves time and
4. resource including human resource is effectively and efficiently distributed to avoid losses.
Olime Health therefore believes that moving forward, a thorough research exercise should be conducted by the MOH/GHS into the most effective way to communicate health information to its workforce and the entire population. We expect that there are already procedures for things like this, we therefore suggest an update on those procedures to identify for example the various information needs, audiences with such needs, and the most cost effective way to reach them. In practical terms, such a research exercise will answer questions like ‘which type of media works well for the different age groups, sexes, social status, ethnic groups, geographical locations ? and what is the preferred form of media to be used for each identified audience group.
This research can be carried out as final year project works of tertiary students to reduce the burden on Ghana’s overstretched health workforce and give these students practical work experience while in school. Where and when this research has been conducted, it must be implemented, monitored and evaluated to ensure that the health of all 25 million Ghanaians is being protected as well as see to it that results are being achieved.
Additionally, Olime Health believes MOH needs to collaborate more with the Ministry of Information and Media relations to help disseminate information. It should also collaborate with the ministry of Communication and Technology on how internet usage can be improved to reach the entire population as well as make internet usage affordable for most if not all citizens of Ghana. Other private organizations should also be made partners in securing the health of Ghana. This proposal stems from the recognized fact that the task of securing the health of a nation is a multi-sectoral project as this approach achieves better and faster results.
Today, we can heave a sigh of relief knowing that there’s no outbreak of Ebola in Ghana and health personnel like my dear friend’s mother and the general population were not put at risk. But tomorrow can we?
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About the author
Olime Health is a total health brand on a mission of enabling people to choose and live healthier lifestyles. The brand advocates for an environment which encourages and supports the health and nutritional wellbeing of people. We approach health from a preventive angle and specialize in research, advocacy, monitoring and evaluation, nutritional assessments, food security and interventions. Twitter @olimehealth . Facebook/olimehealth
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